Joss Whedon used to be a fun follow on Twitter. Oh sure, we all knew he was a lefty and you’d have to put up with the occasional political aside, but for the most part his tweets were a lot like the dialogue he gave to his iconic creations like Buffy Summers and Jayne Cobb: smart, snarky and laced with the kind of wit that made you wish you’d written them yourself. Then came Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Whedon had the temerity to portray Natasha Romanov (aka Black Widow) as emotionally vulnerable, ready for a loving relationship with Bruce Banner and regretful that her Russian handlers from her days as an assassin had rendered her unable to have children. Of course the feminist trolls descended upon Whedon after that, accusing him of marginalizing a strong woman and making her weak. In their view, you see, women don’t need men and they sure as hell don’t need kids, and by showing Romanov as wanting those things Whedon might as well have written her as spending the whole movie in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. He had betrayed the cause, and there was no forgiving that.
You see that sort of thing a lot on social media, internet nobodies trying to make a name for themselves by claiming the scalp of a celebrity. In Whedon’s case, though, the criticism obviously stung. Disillusioned, he dropped off Twitter completely, another victim of the internet thought police. Most of his fans thought he was gone for good, and although they were sad nobody could blame him. After all, if a guy with the progressive bona fides of Joss Whedon could be forced out by the social justice horde, how could anyone be safe?
Well, the self-imposed Twitter exile was only temporary–and when Whedon came back, it really looked like he was out to reclaim his spot among the leftist elite. His tweets got more and more political, and with that his bitterness only seemed to grow. It got so bad that at one point, he even cracked a tasteless joke suggesting that some teenage girls who had been photographed meeting with Paul Ryan were “not a 10”–only to find out later that the girls were, in fact, cancer survivors. He later issued a half-hearted apology for the gaffe, but it never slowed him down. If there was an opportunity to demonize Republicans for their misogyny or praise Planned Parenthood for elevating women, you could be sure that Whedon would be there with a tweet. He might as well have taken out a full-page ad in Variety that said, “See? Look at how much of a woke feminist I am! Won’t you take me back, pretty please?”
The tactic must have worked, because I haven’t heard much lately about Whedon getting attacked for the way he wrote a Marvel Comics character in a movie that the feminists who came after him probably didn’t see. But there is another piece of news that suggests that Whedon’s feminist pose actually had another purpose–one far more personal. Kai Cole, who recently divorced Whedon, felt that it was important enough to make public, and so she took to the pages of The Wrap earlier this week to explain why:
There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.
Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”
Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn’t know the whole truth, and said, “I’ve never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we’ve done both separately and together, how much fun we have…” He wanted it all; he didn’t want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life…
Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.
So basically, Whedon’s ex-wife is saying that when it came right down to it, he was no different from any of the casting-couch producers and directors that we’ve heard so much about in Hollywood–men who, because of their influential positions, leverage their power to get sex from beautiful young women who see that as the quickest way to rise to stardom. That is not the mark of a man who respects women. No true feminist male would allow a woman to debase herself that way, not even if she’s “needy” and “aggressive” as Whedon describes. And no true feminist male would humiliate his wife that way, breaking his marriage vows simply because infidelity is there for easy plucking.
In that context, it’s easy to see why Whedon has struck such a radical feminist pose on Twitter. Centuries ago, sinners would go to the Church to be granted an indulgence: for a sum of money, they would be forgiven their sin–sometimes in advance–and would thus believe themselves forgiven in the eyes of God, even if there was no repentance. If what his ex-wife is saying is true, Joss Whedon’s feminism sounds a lot like the same thing. By professing all the correct beliefs, and proclaiming them loudly at the altar of social media, he buys off responsibility for his own bad behavior. More than that, he can feel free to continue with that behavior while keeping a clear conscience.
Except that life doesn’t work that way. When hearts get broken, when love is betrayed, there’s always a reckoning. With his penchant for drama, Whedon of all people should understand that.